Dark Roast or Medium Roast? A story of heat, timing and confusion.

Medium and dark roast coffee beans.
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Dark roast coffee beans sound more exotic somehow. But will they give you the taste you are hoping for?

When coffee beans are harvested, cleaned and ready to ship in sacks, they are all green.


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The green beans are then shipped to coffee roasters. Some roasters are huge businesses. In other cases you’ll find a local coffee shop that buys green beans and roasts them on the premises.

What’s the difference between a dark roast and a medium roast?

First, there are more than two grades of roasting. There are numerous grades... Light Brown, Medium Brown and so on, right up to Black Brown.

A skilled roaster will not only consider the preferences of his or her customers, but will also take into account the qualities of the beans being roasted. Some beans are well suited to being dark roasted, while others may not be. Too much roasting might mask or kill their unique flavors.

And generally speaking, it’s true to say that the longer the roasting time and the darker the final bean, the greater the likelihood of losing some of the more subtle flavors of the original bean.

The dark roast is the dark brown, roasted bean made famous by Peet's Coffee of California. Starbucks then picked up on that “dark roast taste” and made it even more famous. Although the Starbucks roast is generally not as dark as the early Peet’s roasts.

Most of the time when you buy coffee beans in North America, you are not buying a dark roast at all. The beans you have at home are more likely to be a Medium Brown or Medium Dark brown. It’s on the Medium Dark Brown that you see a few droplets of oil on the surface of the bean.

The Dark Brown is often used to make espresso and is characterized by a sheen of oil covering the whole bean.


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What does this mean to the regular coffee drinker?

To be honest, unless you are a complete coffee fanatic, choosing coffees based on subtle differences in roasting times and temperatures can be totally confusing.

Not only do you have to start thinking about the origin of the beans and the subtleties of the roasting process, you also have to take into account that some roasters are more skilled than others. So a particular description of the roast of the same beans may not taste the same if they came from different roasters.

Our advice? Enjoy Medium Roast beans for your regular coffee drinking. And look for a dark roast when you want to make espresso.

Not everyone would agree with that, but it’s a good starting point until you feel more confident in your knowledge of all the different origins, roasts and roasters.

More about how to make gourmet coffee...



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About the author: Nick Usborne, aka Coffee Detective, is a writer and long-time coffee enthusiast. Read more…

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